Casting Our Favorite Books: The Secret History


There are many wonderful books that very strangely haven’t been made into movies, and as equal parts book nerds and movie lovers, this gets us to thinking. Who would we want to play our favorite characters? In our minds, the most glaring omission from the Hollywood stable is an adaptation Donna Tartt’s The Secret History , the story of six brilliant students at a remote Vermont college who study Greek, perform Bacchic rituals, and wind up spiraling into an abyss marked by obsession, betrayal and murder. It’s an enthralling novel, to be sure, but its cinematic potential is based in its tense atmosphere, bizarre details and compelling storyline. Plus, Tartt’s characters are so wonderful and well-defined that it seems a shame not to have them represented on film. Here, we offer our humble casting suggestions.

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Richard Papen

Richard, the protagonist and normalizing foil for his strange friends, is a smart, increasingly confident boy fron humble roots in California, who lies about his past in an attempt to maintain an image of beauty and gets tangled up in Bunny’s murder with his friends. Richard muses, “Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that shadowy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” Joseph Gordon Levitt can play delicate and unsure as easily as dark and studied, so we think he would be perfect for the range of Richard’s emotions and actions through the story. Plus we love to look at him.

Mia Wasikowska and Jamie Bell as Charles and Camilla Macaulay

“They looked very much alike, with heavy dark-blond hair and epicene faces as clear, as cheerful and gave, as a couple of Flemish angels. And perhaps most unusual in the context of Hampden – where pseudo-intellects and teenage decadents abounded, and where black clothing was de rigueur – they liked to wear pale clothes, particularly white. In this swarm of cigarettes and dark sophistication they appeared here and there like figures from an allegory, or lon-dead celebrants from some forgotten garden party… She, I thought, was very beautiful, in an unsettling, almost medieval way which would not be apparent to the casual observer.” We think these two could pass as fraternal twins. And we must say, we like the idea of a girl and boy twin pair where the girl has shorter hair than the boy. Both actors are a little unsettling in their looks, and could carry off the tortured wispy teenager quite well. Oh, Billy Elliott, all grown up and sleeping with your sister.

Olly Alexander as Francis Abernathy

“Angular and elegant, he was precariously thin, with nervous hands and a shrewd albino face and a short, fiery mop of the reddest hair I had ever seen. I thought (erroneously) that he dressed like Alfred Douglas, or the Comte de Montesquiou: beautiful starchy shirts with French cuffs; magnificent neckties; a black greatcoat that billowed behind him as he walked and made him look like a cross between a student prince and Jack the Ripper. Once, to my delight, I even saw him wearing pince-nez.” Francis is the most refined of the group, handsome, mysterious and slightly fey. We’d probably have to slap some red hair dye on him, but we think Olly’s the man for the job.

Cillian Murphy as Henry Winter

Murphy has that innate lurking evil behind his handsome face that would be perfect for the intimidating, hyper-intelligent Henry, the mastermind behind Bunny’s murder. Tartt describes Henry as “quite large, well over six feet… dark-haired, with a square jaw and coarse, pale skin. He might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. He wore dark English suits and carried an umbrella (a bizarre sight in Hampden) and he walked stiffly through the throngs and hippies and beatniks and preppies and punks with the self-conscious formality of an old ballerina, surprising in one so large as he.”

Chord Overstreet as Bunny Corcoran

“A sloppy blond boy, rosy-cheeked and gum-chewing, with a relentlessly cheery demeanor and his fists thrust deep in the pockets of his knee-sprung trousers. He wore the same jacket every day, a shapeless brown tweed that was frayed at the elbows and short in the sleeves, and his sandy hair was parted on the left, so a long forelock fell over one bespectacled eye… His voice was loud and honking, and carried in the dining halls.” Chord Overstreet is perfect for Bunny – he’s baby-faced and bright-eyed, and nearly always photographed with his mouth open.

Ian McKellen as Julian Morrow

Julian Morrow is the mysterious Classics professor, who takes no salary from the school and insists that his pupils drop all other classes and name him as their advisor. Richard notes, “His eyes were kind, frank, more gray than blue.” His eyebrows are described as “deep, mischievous”. He is their revered and honored teacher, though he’s manipulative and self-centered, and when things get rough, he pretty much disappears. Ian McKellen can easily transition from strength to weakness, from charming sincerity to cold heartlessness. Plus, doesn’t he just look like a professor?

Did we get it right? Who would you envision? Let us know in the comments!